The following is the transcript of a lengthy interview, slightly edited for grammar, that I conducted by telephone with Salah Mukhtar. Mukhtar, who lives in Yemen, is a former Iraqi official and diplomat who worked in the Information Ministry and who served at the United Nations and as Iraq's ambassador to India. At the time of the invasion in 2003, he was Iraq's ambassador to Vietnam. Though he does not claim to be a spokesman for the resistance in Iraq or for the Baath party, he is close to both. Here is what he had to say:
Q. How strong is the Iraqi resistance?
A. The armed resistance has finished all the preparations to control power in Iraq. The middle class collaborators with the United States have started the leave Iraq already. Most of them are outside Iraq: Ahmed Chalabi, Iyad Allawi and others. A second wave of agents are preparing to leave, and some have already left, to Jordan, to Syria, to Britain, and some other places, because the strategic conflict, practically speaking, has reached the point of putting an end to the occupation. The resistance is controlling Baghdad now. Yesterday, I spoke to many people, and they said that the attack on the American base was part of a new strategy to inflict heavy casualties on American troops in Iraq.
Q. I’ve read that many tribal leaders in Iraq are calling for the release of Saddam Hussein, and others want to cooperate with Maliki.
A. Those who are working with Maliki are living in Jordan, not inside Iraq. They do not dare return to Iraq, especially those who are from Anbar Province, so they have no weight inside Iraq. As for those who are sending messages to release President Saddam, they constitute the overwhelming majority of the tribes in Iraq. It is becoming a national phenomenon. … It started suddenly, hundreds of messages from tribal leaders from the north to the south of Iraq.
Q. Are their pro-Baathist forces in the National Assembly?
A. They are not representing us, but they are sympathetic. They are demanding the elimination of the de-Baathification law, and to open direct dialogue with Baathists. They say that it is nonsense to talk about national reconciliation without including the Baathists in the dialogue. Even Allawi and his group were part of this.
I assure you, the resistance has the upper hand in Iraq. The only thing we are worried about is the direct intervention by Iran. Otherwise, everything is guaranteed. Within four or five hours we can impose security and stability in Iraq after the Americans withdraw. That’s why we want the UN Security Council to declare its opposition to any outside intervention in Iraq, to guarantee that Iran won’t intervene in Iraq. Otherwise, those people allied with the United States will have to leave when the United States leaves. The resistance holds the ground almost everywhere in Iraq.
Q. What is the role of Muqtada al-Sadr? Can you have a dialogue with him?
No. Muqtada is allied with Iran. … Now he is more dangerous than the Badr Brigade. The harm being inflicted on Iraqi society is from the [Sadr’s] Mahdi Army. The Badr group was crippled by the resistance.
Q. Why don’t we see a resistance movement in the Shiite areas of Iraq?
A. There are Shiites occupying high positions inside the resistance, with the Baathists. No other organization has popular support inside Iraq. But the media does not cover what is going on in the south. The nature of the operations in the south is not like the resistance operations in Anbar and Baghdad. It is directed against the so-called Hakim group [the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, SCIRI] and the Mahdi Army, who are killing the nationalists, cooperating with the occupation. They are killing more people than the occupation forces are. But there is a silent majority in the south, which is against the occupation and against Iran. They are fed up with the crimes of the pro-Iranian groups.
You know, in the south, in many cities, Iran even has official offices, and the Iranian intelligence service is controlling areas of southern Iraq. They are using Iranian money. You can tell a taxi driver, “Got to the office of the Iranian intelligence service,” and they will take you. But the silent majority in the south is fed up with Iranian influence in that area. That’s why we are not concerned with the situation in the south, except for the threat of direct Iranian intervention.
The legitimate army has been rebuilt, the army that went underground in the invasion. Ands they are ready to control Iraq right now. Ninety per cent of all Iraqi resistance is made up of Iraqi army. There are highly qualified officers of the Iraqi army are leading nearly all resistance operations in Iraq.
They built the Iraqi army on a sectarian basis, with Badr Brigade and pesh merga [the Kurdish militias]. But there are some nationalists inside the army, and the resistance gets information from nationalist officers inside the official army.
Q. Will there be a Tet Offensive-type of attack? Will the Green Zone come under attack?
A. There has been talk in Baghdad about liberating the Green Zone, especially over the past few weeks. But this is not likely for the time being, because the strategy of the resistance is based on collecting points, as in boxing. You collect points, one by one, to see who is winning. So you exhaust the enemy, by attacking from time to time, until he collapses. The victory of the resistance in Iraq will not be achieved by one battle.
We expect the first month of next year will be decisive. The Americans are exhausted, and the resistance is preparing simultaneous attacks on American forces everywhere. The increase in U.S. casualties are rising sharply as part of a decision by the resistance to increase these attacks.
Q. Who speaks for the resistance?
A. No one. I do not speak for the Baath party or the resistance. But I am very close to both of them. It was decided before the invasion to not establish direct connections with any other party, to prevent penetration and to make it more difficult to get intelligence. … I speak to them by phone, and mostly by Internet. And by direct meetings, when I travel. … Some Arab governments give me passports to facilitate my movement. They play the role of mediating between the resistance and the United States.
Q. What is the U.S. attitude toward the Baath party?
A. The Americans, generals and others, contacted President Saddam in prison and spoke about the situation in Baghdad and around Iraq,. Rumsfeld met him, and Condoleezza Rice, too. She met him. And before her, Rumsfeld met him. They both tried to convince him to make statements calling on the resistance to lay down their arms and to cooperate in the so-called political process. He rejected that. But they told him, you can choose between the fate of Mussolini and the fate of Napoleon Bonaparte. Later, they alluded to something else, involving the return of the Baath party … And now some Arab governments are pressuring the United States to accept the return of the Baath party to guarantee the stability of Iraq. Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and some other Gulf states have contacted the United States to convince the United States to reinstate the Baath party as the only solution to minimize Iranian influence in the region.… The Baath party has taken a decision to build a National Front in Iraq, including other parties, including some Kurdish groups.
Q. Would Ayatollah Sistani cooperate?
A. Sistani is nothing. No one listens to him. He is not Iraqi. He will not remain in Iraq after liberation.
Q. It looks like a civil war.
A. Civil war in Iraq will never happen. In my family, there are many Shiites and Sunnis. And the majority of Iraqis are like this. So how can I kill my brother?
Q. Many Iraqis are being polarized by the killings, driven to sectarianism.
A. It is not sectarian fighting. It is political fighting. In the highest leadership of the resistance there are Shiites and Sunnis, Christians and Muslims. They are working together inside the resistance, including Kurds and Turkmen. … The people of Iraq are increasingly blaming Iran and the United States for the killing. … Iran wants to control the area, by using their influence among the Shiites. And who brought the Iranian gangs to Iraq? The United States. You remember, after the attack on Iraq in 1998, after Desert Fox, the Americans concluded that there is no way to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein without cooperating with Iran. So they started their cooperation with Iran, and it began in Europe. And the center of it was Abdel Aziz Hakim. And then Sistani made a fatwa calling on Iraqis to not resist the American invasion, and another fatwa to cooperate with the occupation. And who is supporting the Maliki government? Who supported the Jaafari government? The United States. They are Iranians. Those who are ruling Iraq since the invasion are not Iraqis.
Q. What about the possibility of a military coup in Iraq?
A. If the United States wants to give power in Iraq to the generals, through a military coup, as they are hinting about, that military coup will be [sympathetic to] the Baathists. If its leader is not pro-Baathist, there will be a second coup against that leader. … Because all officers in the Iraqi army, the old army and the new army, are under the control of the Baath party. So there is no solution outside the Baath party.
The increase in the volume of mass killings has increased the willingness of the Iraqi people to accept a military coup. I would say that 80 per cent of the Iraqi people are willing to accept it, to accept anything that would help to crush the Iranian gangs [i.e., the Mahdi Army and the SCIRI’s Badr Brigade]. That coup will be supported by the United States, to purge the Iranian gangs and groups, and destroy them by military might and to establish a military dictatorship for some time. … But those who support a military coup will accept a Baathist coup, a second coup. … The United States has made contact with some Iraqis, old generals, old army Baathist generals, to topple the government of Maliki. They are based in Jordan. Some of them accepted to cooperate with the United States, to crack down on the Mahdi Army and other gangs. And they contacted some tribes in Anbar. They are preparing an attack on Iranian gangs in Iraq, and it will happen, soon.
You know, Iran has said, if it is attacked by the United States, it will attack American troops in Iraq. And this kind of threat is a very serious one. If you combine the attacks on the United States by the Iranian gangs with the attacks of the armed resistance, it will be a big tragedy for the United States. So the American government is trying to minimize the influence of Iranian forces in Iraq before any practical move against Iran.
If [a coup] happens it will be a crazy move by the United States. It will prove again that the United States doesn’t understand the Iraqi situation. Most of the army, the old army, 99 per cent of them, are Baathists. Either the new generals will cooperate with the Baath party, or they will be toppled by the Baath party.